I’ve quit smoking. Again.

I started this habit when I was 21. It felt good at the time, for a long list of reasons, chief of which was that I was asserting my autonomy. For a time, smoking felt empowering, strange as that may sound.

Now it’s just a remnant of a different phase of my life; an unfortunate habit I am having the most difficult (and interesting) time kicking. It’s time – it’s been time for a while – for me to leave this behind.

And so I have, repeatedly. (I’m really good at quitting. Not so much at maintaining the quit.) The interesting thing that happens when you give up your most cemented habit is that a lot of stuff you didn’t know you had comes up. With hourly cravings suddenly abandoning centre stage, the slower more profound yearning emerges. It’s hard to explain this, but it’s as if my constant back-and-forth with cigarettes was distracting me from what was going on below that: a longing to know and be known by Life. A deep thirst, a discomfort, a yearning to be connected fully.

I ask of this yearning: What are you?

The only answer I have thus far is that it feels like a distress call coming off a stranded spaceship, floating free in foreign atmosphere. It knows it belongs somewhere. It’s calling out to that place.

In between this odd adventure into yearning, however, I simply, plainly, miss cigarettes. Today I bummed one off my neighbour. I should have known it would make no difference – ten minutes after smoking it, I was feeling the pangs of realisation that I couldn’t have another.

There’s a familiar shame that comes with these cravings. My self-talk starts spiralling: I’m meant to be better at this by now. How do I except to grow as a human if I can’t let go of this one basic bad habit? I don’t deserve to have nice things if I can’t quit already. It’s embarrassing – every other ‘spiritual’ person I know is doing awesome things like meditating for hours every day, and I am chained to a packet of stinky nicotine sticks. Why am I so weak? And on and on the thoughts continue.

Then I read this poem by Hafiz:

Because of our Wisdom

In many parts of this world water is
Scarce and precious.

People sometimes have to walk
A great distance

Then carry heavy jugs upon their
Heads.

Because of our wisdom, we will travel
Far for love.

All movement is a sign of
Thirst.

Most speaking really says,
“I am hungry to know you.”

Every desire of your body is holy;

Every desire of your body is
Holy.

Dear one,
Why wait until you are dying

To discover that divine
Truth?

I read the poem once. It was beautiful. I read it again, repeating out loud “every desire of your body is holy”. As often happens for me when I’m reading poems, the beauty of the words struck me before their meaning really did. But then I paused – wait, what? What does this really say?

It says, I realised, that I am holy. I am a spark of Essence; I am the breath of the Source (or God, or of Life, whatever your words might be),

I am a chip off the old block which is Consciousness.

This world is sacred. I, within it, am sacred. And so are my desires, mundane or annoying or embarrassing as they might seem. How dare I call anything in this strange and difficult life less than holy? With what superior knowledge do I get to choose which parts of my experiences are sacred, and which are mundane or foul? I do not get to pick and choose. I get to embrace my life as best I can.

And so I will honour my every desire, whether deeper yearning or simple craving for nicotine. Honouring does not mean humouring: I honour my desire for cigarettes. I recognise this as my body’s way of offering me relief from the discomfort of the moment. I honour my insecurities and anxieties and cravings, and I hold myself with care in this moment. But I do not simply roll over and have another smoke. There are better ways, I tell my body. In three days you’ll be glad I hung on.

But this, this struggle not to smoke, this giving in and then quitting again, this soul-battering addiction? This is holy too. Every bit of it.